Dear Rabbi Orenstein:
I’ve never called you Jehiel. I never dared. I’ve always been in awe of you. For me you represent the path to Jewish knowledge through intelligence and study. Before we had our first lesson you told me to study the first six lines of Genesis. I never told you but I spent a whole month reading everything I could find on those six lines. When I study with you I use every bit of intelligence I can find to understand the lesson. You know so much and I try to understand all I can.
But being in awe of you hasn’t kept me from fighting tooth and nail when I disagree. I like to think that I’m following the example of the great scholars, arguing exhaustively just to understand. Not caring who was right but what was right. Just to know what the scriptures really say. Your knowledge is exhaustive but I’ve understood a good deal of it. When I thank you at the end of each lesson you always say that I taught you. How I taught you I don’t know but I’m grateful that you’ve had the humility to receive whatever I had to offer.
What you’ve offered me is an appreciation for the brilliance of the Jewish scriptures. You know things I never would have guessed — Hebrew puns, internal rhymes and letter repetition leading to the next verse. I’m sure I haven’t understood all the subtleties but I’ve come to appreciate the genius that has gone into these texts. I believe that’s your most enduring gift to me: an appreciation for how wonderful the scriptures really are. That may be just the beginning but I’m grateful for the start. Thank you again and again.
By: Peter Barnett